Terra Sole (Ridgefield) – Classic Italian with a Few Twists

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Terra Sole Ristorante is located in downtown Ridgefield, down the alley known as Big Shop Lane and sits atop another Ridgefield destination restaurant, Luc’s. The cuisine is based on Italian cuisine, with a few twists from the chef. Established in 2009, the restaurant is the brain-child of Lana and Pietro Polini. Petro was previously the general manager at Siena Ristorante in Stamford and brings his effervescent personality to each table he visits during the course of the evening. His family still resides in Puglia and Rimini, where they own and operate restaurants; serving the cuisine from southeast Italian is in his blood.

I was invited to a media event at the restaurant, and I am very thankful that I accepted. My colleague at CTbites had previously written a glowing review and I was excited to sample the chef’s cuisine. The interior is relaxing, with 55 seats in the main dining area and an additional 10 in the separate bar. There is a large patio where an additional 70 guests can enjoy the food, when the weather permits.

The evening started with a basket of bread, the focaccia is made on site and the other bread are delivered from Brooklyn. I dipped a piece of the bread in the olive oil and was transported to Italy…the olive oil was some of the best I have ever tasted. I asked Pietro about the olive oil and was informed that he imports it from Italy. This was a great start to the meal.

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After a plate of exceptional cheeses and charcuterie, we sampled several appetizers. The first was one of the specials for the evening, a tuna tartare. Large chunks of tuna sat atop a guacamole and fava beans, sitting in a pool of soy and finished with drizzles of wasabi cream. The al dente fava beans added an interesting textural contrast to the otherwise traditional presentation.

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This was followed by “Fichi Speck e Pistacchio.” Roasted California mission figs were wrapped in speck, and served with a dollop of whipped ricotta. toasted pistachios, and finished with a cherry sauce. This combination of sweet from the figs and the cherries was complemented by the salty speck. Served with a few slices of grilled bread this was a favorite of many at the table.

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The “Polpette” was the next dish, and the meat included in this appetizer changes regularly and range from beef to duck and foie gras. The current version is veal, and was served in a delightful San Marzano tomato sauce and finished with shaved Ricotta Salata and basil. The meatballs were delicious with a soft texture throughout.

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This was followed by the “Insalata di Cavoletti,” shaved miniature Brussels sprouts with toasted hazelnuts, crispy imported Pancetta in a truffle Parmigiano vinaigrette. It was served with Westfield goat cheese croquettes. The earthiness of the shredded sprouts was elevated by the addition of the truffle vinaigrette and additional crunch and saltiness from the pancetta. The highlight of this salad was the croquettes, that were soft, delicate and fantastic.

 

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We were also enjoyed two pastas; my favorite of the two was the Cavatelli. It was served with an incredibly deep and rich tomato sauce, that offered just a hint of spiciness.

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The other pasta was a Five Cheese Ravioli topped with a few sautéed mushrooms and drizzled with truffle oil. The pasta was the perfect thickness and the cheese-mushroom-truffle combination was fantastic, with the sautéed mushrooms highlighting the ingredients.

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My favorite dish of the entire night was the “Maile alla Scarpariello;” a double cut Berkshire pork chop stuffed with organic spinach & Westfield goat cheese, finished with Scarpariello sauce, organic escarole, and goat cheese mashed potatoes. The chop was rubbed with a spicy mixture and when paired with the hot & sweet cherry peppers and the sauce created a delicious combination. The mashed potatoes were delicious and the escarole rounded the dish nicely. As much as I loved this presentation, I would have liked it even more without the goat cheese stuffing.

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The “Salmone allo Champagne” was also delicious. It included a Champagne poached king salmon topped with fresh horseradish and paprika and served with organic red quinoa & roasted organic vegetables. The salmon was moist and delicious and was a great complement to the red quinoa. The various vegetable added an earthy component.

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The other entrée was a pan roasted black cod with celery root and mashed potato puree, two varieties of Gaeta olives, capers grape tomatoes, and a swath of sweet pea and mint puree. Thick cut filet was incredibly moist and seasoned, and the Mediterranean style presentation created a plate of vibrant flavors. The sweet pea puree was a nice contrast to the other bold ingredients.

Throughout the dinner Pietro introduced wines he personally chose to pair with each course from one of the restaurant’s two hundred labels.

Overall, the food at Terra Sole was delicious, each dish started with classic Italian dishes and in many cases, were slightly modified. The décor, the service, the ambience and the exuberant host all make for a wonderful evening.

This was a media event. The author was not compensated for this review; the meal was provided without charge. The opinions contained herein are solely those of the author.

 

Great Potential at Winfield Street Deli (Norwalk)

Growing up in NJ, corner delis were everywhere. The biggest decision was whether to go to an Italian deli for a huge meatball, sausage and pepper or chicken parm sub (that is what we called them) or a Jewish deli for corned beef or pastrami (maybe a combo). I first heard ofWinfield Street Deli from Chris Hickey at The Spread, they recently changed the roll on their burger from a potato roll to a brioche from Winfield and it was outstanding. Bread this delicious from an Italian deli in the area required a visit and see if they were delivering great sandwiches.

The small deli is located just down the road from the East Norwalk train station, you will know you have arrived by the bright red awning welcoming patrons. Upon entering you are transported to an old-fashioned Italian deli. A large glass enclosed case fills the right wall, offering meats, cheeses plus a large array of house made salads. The left side has a single table for two plus two stools in front of a shelf to eat. The rear includes a display of the house made breads and pastries, fresh fruit and the ordering station. The walls are adorned with a TV and chalkboard menu in the rear, a large poster of Marlon Brando as the Godfather overseeing the single table and large cans of peeled tomatoes. The airwaves are filled with Channel 12 news intermixed with opera or the theme song from the Godfather. This is a true neighborhood haunt where everyone is addressed by their first name.

The menu includes an enormous selection of sandwich combinations, twenty-four already pre-determined, served as a wrap, on a Portuguese roll, as a wedge (subs for those of us from NJ), enclosed in hot pressed roll, on a toasted ciabatta or, in the case of the Godfather Burger, in a brioche.

On my visits I ordered a few different sandwiches on various breads.

My favorite was the #22, a house made Porchetta. Included in this combination was stuffed pork loin seasoned with garlic, basil, prosciutto, served on a toasted ciabatta with a swath of garlic mayo. The loin was moist and incredibly flavorful, and the crisped prosciutto added a nice level of saltiness while the garlic mayo delivered balance of creaminess and pungency. The toasted ciabatta was extremely thin and crispy, approaching cracker texture. As much as I enjoyed the sandwich I found the amount of filling was very modest and I would have preferred more substance to the entire sandwich.

The #14 is a Salciccia (pictured above), served on a hot pressed panino and includes Esposito Italian sausage, peppers, onions, Fontina cheese & basil pesto. A more accurate description would be a sliced sausage and melted Fontina cheese Panini. There was a scant amount of peppers and onions and mine did not have the pesto. That being said, the sandwich was still very good, but a little salty. It contained a combination of sweet and spicy sausage, of medium spiciness. The sauce and cheese were also very good and the grilled panini was an interesting change from a traditional sausage and pepper wedge. Like the Porchetta, I wanted a larger sandwich, and more onions and peppers and the inclusion of the pesto would have been a welcome addition

The last sandwich I tried was #13, a traditional Chicken Parmigiana. This third sandwich finally reminded me of an Italian deli from my youth, it was sizeable, with a little melted mozzarella and sauce peeking out of the edges of the roll. When I pulled the two halves apart, the cheese created that desired stringiness and I thought this would be a great sandwich. The chicken breast was pounded thin, coated in bread, it looked like the ratio of chicken to breading was really good. First the good news. The bread was outstanding and the cheese and sauce were delicious. Unfortunately, the breading was burnt, and the chicken at the edges was dried out. The chicken in the center of the sandwich was moist, but the flavor was lost in the burnt breading. I showed this to the staff and they were very apologetic, offered a replacement, a substitute or a refund. Good customer service after operator error.

Overall, I think Winfield Street Deli has great potential. The menu includes great choices and combinations. Italian delis are known for large, over-stuffed sandwiches; these were petit and a far cry from the size that I have enjoyed for over fifty years. Once the kitchen ups its game to include all of the ingredients and is careful not to overcook the featured meat this should be a great go-to Italian deli.

69 Winfield St., Norwalk, CT 06855

203.866.4348

Johnny Utah’s in South Norwalk – A Fun Time with a Side of Food

Fairfield County has some great bars with good old fashioned bar food…wings, burgers, fries, onion rings, cheesesteaks, with a wide variety of beers. Recently, many have expanded the menu to include tacos, chili, ribs, chicken and other down and dirty delicacies. When I received an invitation to join a media event at Johnny Utah’s in SoNo I was curious, since this bar also features a mechanical bull (spoiler…not happenin’).

The décor is college rathskeller meets Texas longhorn; long, wooden bars extending from front to back on both side walls, numerous high-top tables, tons of bar seating and “The Bull.” There are plaques of beers throughout, nine TVs on the walls airing sports, a large American flag comprised of beer cans, and on any given night the bar may sponsor a bull riding contest, line dancing or specials on some of the food. While we were eating, there were several groups that were having a blast. I felt transported back to my college days.

Johnny’s menu is pretty straight-forward, bar food that goes with beer. This was not haute-cuisine, farm to table, plates of well-constructed and balanced flavors and textures. This was down and dirty bar food. This was fried. This was sweet. This was sour. This was spicy. This was wings with a choice of more than a dozen sauces. This was a burger served between two grilled cheese sandwiches. This was 32-ounce, multi-person smokin’ rainbow colored drinks. This was foot high milkshakes covered in Reese’s bits or Oreo cookies, and for an additional $5…add a shot of booze. This was college bar food ready to down with pitchers of beer. And there is plenty of the latter, with a long line of taps on both bars, from Bud Lite to Fat Tire. I asked the bartender which was the best seller and she told me, “the late night crowd buys the Bud Lite and the Mermaid Pilsner.”

The menu includes fried appetizers, sliders, chili, four different salads, burgers, pulled pork and chicken sandwiches, ribs, fried chicken, fish and chips, and steak. Prices range from $6-11 for the apps, $9-$13 for the salads, teens for the sandwiches and entrees. I also asked the bartender which item sells the most and she said, “we sell a lot of burgers.”

We started with a few pick-up, lick your fingers appetizers; first the Philly Egg Rolls. The fried wonton wrappers were stuffed with shaved Philly steak, onions, and cheese, and served with Johnny’s BBQ sauce. Memories of burnt tongues forced me to wait until the incendiary melted cheese cooled. There was more fried wonton than filling, which lacked any discernable flavor. They were served with a BBQ sauce, not sure my friends from Philly would approve.

This was followed by a plate of Pickle Chips with chipotle mayo. The slices of sour dills were coated and fried. This was a whole lot of sour, and for a little heat dip them in the accompanying chipotle mayo. Again, they may be an interesting mate to a cold beer but not to my liking.

A trio of wings arrived next and the chef sent the Guinness, the PB&J and the sriracha. I was happy to see both the drummette and the wingette parts of the wing. The wings were meaty, a good first sign, lightly coated and still moist inside. I decided to work my way up the spiciness ladder. First the PB&J. It may take a little getting used to but these were not bad. A bite of sweet and the nutty butter. Onto the Guinness. These were sorta non-descript. Wings should have character, these were neither sweet, nor spicy, nor tangy, not a big fan of this rendition. Then the Sriracha. They were the traditional Buffalo wings’ iridescent red. And the spiciness was there, good kick and with a little dip into the blue cheese sauce, I would order these again. One out of three ain’t bad.

A small bowl of chili arrived next. This contained both beef and beans, but was more liquid than meat and beans. It was first cloyingly sweet and then the spiciness kicked in. I was not a fan and would probably pass on this.

Johnny Utah’s touts itself as a rib and burger joint and the ribs arrived next. The chef immediately told the table they did not have a smoker. They start with full slabs of ribs, dry-coat and slow roast for a few hours, then finish in a covered roaster with sauce in the oven. The meat was fall off the bone tender, but the texture was almost spongy and there was little smoke and less BBQ flavor, it was more steamed meat than what I was hoping would be a down home slab of full-flavored pork. Another pass, but was served with some delicious cole slaw, which I really liked.

The special 10-ounce grass fed burger is served on a brioche bun for $5 and with numerous toppings, each guest can design their perfect combination. Since we could each order our own combination for the burger course, I asked for my normal bacon-cheeseburger medium-rare and added the sautéed onions. This combination, with fries, would raise the price to $12, still a very reasonable price. The first burger that arrived was missing the bacon, the server did a quick round-trip to the kitchen. When I cut it in half it was more well-done than my requested medium-rare so they offered to re-fire. The second burger was raw in the center. Not a good thing from a place that sells tons of burgers. I did taste around the edges and the meat was OK, medium flavor, with a good level of juiciness. The brioche bun was great, from neighboring Winfield Street deli, but the bacon was non-descript. These two main events were disappointing. On the positive side the fries were good and the thinly sliced onion rings were outstanding.

No trip to Johnny Utah’s is complete without an enormous milkshake. Ours was the Oreo. A foot-tall marshmallow dipped glass arrived filled with a vanilla milk shake and topped with whipped cream and more Oreos. It was a fun way to end the meal.

Overall, Johnny Utah’s is a fun place serving bar food. All of the dishes are designed to accompany numerous beers, laughter, a few unintended falls off the bucking bull and watching sports on TV. Go for the food? Not really. It is what it is…go for a fun time.

Really Liked

  • Sriracha Wings (6 for $7.95 12 for $13.95 24 for $26.95
  • Onion Rings
  • Cole Slaw
  • Oreo Milk Shake ($10)

Liked

  • PB&J Wings

Needs Improvement

  • Philly Egg Rolls ($10.95)
  • Pickle Chips ($5.95)
  • Guinness Wings
  • Homemade Beef Chili ($5.95)
  • BBQ Ribs (1/4 Rack $11.50 1/2 Rack $17.50 3/4 Rack $23.50 Full Rack $27.50)
  • Burger ($12)

80 Washington St. Norwalk, CT

203-299-0711

This was a media event. The author was compensated for this review; the meal was provided without charge. The opinions contained herein are solely those of the author.

Spiga – Old World Meets New Italian in New Canaan

Spiga Wine Bar opened quietly in New Canaan a few weeks ago, offering a menu that combines old world Italian red sauce cuisine with modern interpretations of classic dishes. As reported in the CTbites Sneak Peek, the new owners redesigned the interior to offer a family focus for early guests followed by a hip environment as the evening progresses. During its opening weekend, my wife and I visited after a movie and then again with friends for a late lunch. On both occasions we were all impressed with the cuisine, but were a little taken aback by the noise. CTbites was subsequently invited by the owners to visit one afternoon to sample additional items, discuss the changes envisioned to the menu and how the owners are addressing the desire of guests to enjoy conversation with friends and family.

Every visit to Spiga should start with a selection of their Italian meats and cheeses. Ours included Prosciutto di Parma, Soppressata and Porchetta, Mozzarella cheese and olives. Each of the meats offered a different level of spiciness, from the mild Prosciutto to the spicy Soppressata, and all of them were delicious. They can be ordered individually or as a group of one to four meats with Mozzarella.

The menu includes numerous combinations of pizzas, from a simple Margherita to an elaborate “New England” with lobster. The crust of the rectangular shaped personal 12” pizza is crispy from edge to center, with only the slight bend in a slice when lifted. Some may choose to use a knife and fork; this might be a requirement for several of the “salad” topped pies.

I sampled three different combinations. My favorite was the “Calabrese,” which combined a layer of melted Mozzarella cheese and San Marzano tomato sauce, topped with the spicy Sopressata Calabrese and finished with drizzles of hot oil and honey. This sweet-spicy combination offered great heat from the sopressata and the hot oil, offset by a drizzle of the sweet honey. The cheese mellowed the heat and the sauce added even more sweetness.

The “Di Parma” started with melted fresh mozzarella plus chunks of fresh tomatoes and topped with a large mound of lightly dressed arugula and a generous portion of San Danielle prosciutto. The prosciutto was outstanding, with a delightfully soft texture and the cheese and sauce were delicious. I was not as big a fan of the dressed arugula as others, preferring an undressed version.

I was a little apprehensive when the “Roasted Beet” pizza was delivered. It included San Marzano tomato sauce, arugula, cubes of local roasted beets, goat cheese and drizzled with Balsamic reduction. This melding of a salad and pizza was very tasty. The cubes of beets worked well with both the mozzarella and the creamy goat cheese, adding a sweet earthiness to the dish, balanced by the peppery (and in this case undressed) arugula.

I sampled three of the small plates during my visits. My favorite was the “Fried Meatballs” topped with San Marzano tomato sauce, basil and Ricotta cheese. The meatballs were excellent, soft on the interior, surrounded by a crispy exterior and delivered great flavor with just a hint of garlic. The sweet San Marzano sauce was fantastic and the dollops of Ricotta added great creaminess to the dish.

I also enjoyed the “Roasted Brussels Sprouts,” and included a large serving of fried sprouts, paired with crispy pancetta pieces and finished with a honey truffle oil. The sprouts were perfectly fried, crispy on the edges and still firm throughout. The fried pancetta added wonderful salty-smoky flavor and with the cheese added just enough salt to perk the palate.

The last small plate was the “Portuguese Grilled Octopus” that was served with crispy Coppa, baby potatoes, and micro greens. The octopus was very tender, but the texture was off-putting and spongy, and it would have benefitted from a charring on the exterior and the soft textures continued with the potatoes. The crispy Coppa added a slight crunch to the dish, but the current version was not to my liking.

There are numerous salads, with my favorite the “Farro and Quinoa Salad,” served with avocado, cucumbers, scallions, heirloom cherry tomatoes, grilled fennel and finished with lemon-EVOO. The quinoa was a great earthy canvas for the other ingredients. The sweet cucumbers and tomatoes were balanced by the fennel and scallions, and brightened by the lemon dressing.

Another large salad was the “Campagna Salad,” with spinach, golden apples, fresh pears, roasted walnuts, cranberries, Gorgonzola cheese, and Balsamic vinaigrette. A large mound of spinach was surrounded by the sweet thinly sliced fruits, crunchy nuts and pungent cheese. Each forkful brought a different combination of flavors.

With pastas ranging from a home-style spaghetti and meatballs to lobster fettuccine, I decided to try a rich pasta and a light pasta. The “Short Rib Ravioli” was made in-house with a rich, meaty short rib filling encased in a thin pasta sheet and served with a wild mushroom marsala sauce. The deep flavor of the meat was complemented by the earthiness of the wild mushroom and the Marsala sauce. As the cool weather arrives, this will be an excellent comfort option.

On the lighter side, the “Linguini Vongole” was very good. A medium portion of house-made linguini was served in a simple clam broth, with an abundance of cockles, baby clams, roasted garlic, and seasoned with parsley and red chili peppers. The broth was flavorful with a hint of garlic. The pasta was just a touch on the thick side, and the pasta and shellfish were slightly overcooked.

The “Market Cioppino” was excellent. A bowl of lobster, shrimp, calamari, swordfish (this changes daily) and clams, swimming in a seafood tomato broth was served with grilled crostini. Each was perfectly cooked and maintained a soft texture. The broth was delicious. A little red pepper flakes on the table for those, like me, who prefer a little more heat would have made this a perfect rendition.

Overall, Spiga is delivering wonderful pizzas, small plates, salads and main course. I asked the owner about the noise and he told me that they purchased sound dampening material that is being installed throughout the dining area. Likewise, Spiga’s opening menu was very large (this is the owners’ first venture into New Canaan) and they wanted to understand the likes and dislikes versus their other restaurants. Over the next few weeks, the menu will more align with the tastes of the New Canaan guests.

Many thanks to Janes Beiles of Jane Beiles Photography for these wonderful photos.

136 Main St – New Canaan, CT 06840

(203) 920-1351

Really Liked

  • Meat Platter – Prosciutto di Parma, Soppressata and Porchetta with Mozzarella ($25.50)
  • Calabrese Pizza ($16)
  • Fried Meatballs ($9)
  • Roasted Brussels Sprouts ($9)
  • Short Rib Ravioli (Lunch $17; Dinner $20)
  • Market Cioppino (Lunch $23; Dinner $26)

Liked

  • Di Parma Pizza($16)
  • Roasted Beet Pizza ($17)
  • Farro and Quinoa Salad (Lunch $12; Dinner $15)
  • Campagna Salad (Lunch $10; Dinner $13)
  • Linguini Vongole (Lunch $18; Dinner $20)

Needs Improvement

  • Portuguese Grilled Octopus ($15)

The author was compensated for this review; the meal on the last visit was provided without charge. The opinions contained herein are solely those of the author.

Nosh Hound Food Truck Rolls into Stamford: Global Cuisine with Deliciously, Bold Combinations

Nosh Hound Eatery is the newest entry to the Stamford Food Truck scene.When I saw the post by my buddy over at Hey Stamford, I was curious. When I read his praise and a menu that really intrigued me, it had potential, and I decided to drive to Stamford and give it a shot.

Nosh Hound is the brainchild of owners Sam Ralbovsky and Maycie Maringer.  After graduating from the Culinary program at Johnson & Wales University and a three-month cross country food inspired road trip, they returned to Sam’s hometown of Stamford, CT. The two young cooks became enamored by the diverse cooking styles they encuntered on their cross country adventure and wanted to show their passion with a menu of “global cuisine experienced through the medium of sandwiches, snacks, and small bites.”

The menu is full of incredibly creative combinations. I smiled when I saw the heading “The Usuals,” which laid out combinations from Hamburguesa Americana (chorizo spiced beef, onions, Jalapeños, white American cheese and a chipotle “secret sauce”) to a VLT (smoked wild mushrooms, fried green tomatoes, arugula, sun-dried tomato aioli on rye toast). Nothing was “usual” about the menu. They start with foods that we all grew up with and then transform them with addition flavors and textures, inspired by various regions of the world, a Philly Cheesesteak with a Korean twist, a hot dog inspired by eastern Europe or a chicken sandwich with Latin flair.

The truck is new to the streets of Stamford, a mere three weeks, and they are still getting a feel for locations. The Facebook page states that they are parked on Summer Street across from the Ridgeway Shopping Mall on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but as I waited for my food I was told you might also find them parked in front of Dairy Queen and over at Landmark Square, or late at night in SoNo in the circle in front of Harlan Publick.

On my first visit I ordered two sandwiches, the Southern Sammy and the Korean Cheesesteak.

My clear favorite of the two was the Southern Sammy. It was outstanding. It included several pieces of buttermilk fried chicken, topped with slaw, house sweet pickles, Cajun aioli, and served on a brioche bun. With a few of the chicken pieces jutting from the bun I first tasted the fried chicken. It was perfectly fried, but I yearned for a little more seasoning on the coating. That desire for more seasoning was more than satisfied as I worked my way through the combination. The slaw was delicious, adding more crunch to the sandwich and the Cajun aioli was nicely spiced. The sweet pickles were sweet-spicy and the Brioche was a great complement to the ingredients. The sandwich was a great balance of spicy, sweet, crunchy, creamy and buttery. I highly recommend the Southern Sammy.

The Korean Cheesesteak was served on a traditional long roll and included Bulgogi, caramelized onions, melted white American cheese and Sriracha mayo. It was served open-faced and my initial thought was that if the taste was as bold as the visual appeal, it would be a great sandwich. Care needs to be taken to slowly close the roll prior to the first bite. It also offered an enormous boldness of flavors. Unfortunately, the beef marinade was a little overwhelming, much too much sauce, and then the spiciness of the Sriracha mayo kicked in. As much as the melted American cheese tried to balance the spicy-teriyaki, it could not. Likewise, the slivers of scallion that topped the sandwich added more pungency. I kept looking for the caramelized onions for some sweetness, but they were not present in my sandwich, a little growing pains mis-cue during assembly. Adjustment to the marinade could drastically improve this sandwich’s balance.

After my visit I reached out to Sam and Maycie and they were excited about the chicken and disappointed in the cheesesteak and asked me to return. There was great flavor coming out of that truck and on my second visit I enjoyed two new items from the menu plus a cheesesteak 2.0.

The Bangkok Fish Tacos included beer battered Mahi Mahi, coconut, peanut slaw, pickled Thai chile, and a red curry aioli. The thick pieces of fish were lightly coated to give just a hint of crunch while maintaining a juicy and soft interior. The flavors were enhanced by the red curry aioli, which added a little heat and the coconut and peanut slaw added some texture. The pickled Thai chilies added even more complementing flavors and left a nice amount of heat behind with each bite. It was a fabulous taco in both flavor and balance.

I was curious how they would blend a vegetarian option onto the menu with their bold creativity and the VLT quickly answered my question. Served on toasted rye bread, the VLT combined a lightly coated and fried green tomato, with smoked and fried wild mushrooms, arugula and a schmear of sun dried tomato aioli. The lightly coated tomato slice was a great canvas for the other ingredients. The mushrooms offered tremendous flavor, but were just a touch burnt on the edges, and the arugula and sun dried tomato aioli were perfect to brighten the dish and add some spicy notes from the peppery arugula. This is a vegetarian option that even a carnivore like me would order again.

They insisted I try their revised Korean Cheesesteak and I am glad I did. The marinade was complementing the beef, which was now the centerpiece of the sandwich and the inclusion of the two-hour caramelized onions added a wonderful sweetness. In addition, the melted American cheese and the Sriracha aioli were lessened and were in the background to add the Korean spiciness and umami to the sandwich. All of these changes created a superb cheesesteak.

Overall, Stamford has a new, and delicious, option with Nosh Hound. I really liked the fried chicken, it was delicious, the tacos were outstanding, a killer vegetarian sandwich and the revised cheesesteak that combines flavors from around the world. After two visits, Sam and Maycie can definitely combine bold flavors into delicious sandwiches. As they balance the meat and the sauce ratio, this will easily become one of the best trucks in the area and a must go-to. Check their facebook, twitter and website for their locations.

The author was compensated for this review; the meal on the second visit was provided without charge. The opinions contained herein are solely those of the author.

Stick with the Burgers @Bareburger

The second Connecticut location for Bareburger, in Harbor Point, opened six months ago, its second Fairfield County location (the first opened in downtown Ridgefield in 2013) as the micro-chain-gone-global expands its Connecticut offerings. For an overview of Bareburger and an exclusive interview with its founder, Euripides Pelekanos, click here.

Several months ago CTbites was invited to a media event at Bareburger in Stamford. Downpours and personnel issues left a less than favorable impression of the cuisine. After a three-month hiatus CTbites was invited back and treated to several appetizers, a few burgers and a dessert. Visit number two left a better impression; Bareburger serves very good burgers, with bold flavors and combinations; unfortunately, the appetizers are still a challenge.

The second visit started with three of the smaller selections. The first was the “Macho Fries,” which were ordered with both regular and sweet potato fries. The fries were topped with guacamole, pepper jack cheese, spicy pico de gallo, pickled Jalapeño peppers, and buttermilk ranch dressing, almost a Mexican poutine. The guacamole was very watery and more oniony than I prefer, the pico de gallo delivered even more onions, the Jalapeños and dressing added some kick and creaminess, respectively, but the pepper jack cheese was barely present, and the onions overwhelmed everything. The sweet potato fries were perfectly cooked, but the regular fries were limp.

The “Crispy Brussels Sprouts” were served with Manchego cheese and lemon. Unlike the first visit, the Brussels were well prepared with nice crispy edges and the Manchego was a good complement. I kept looking for the acidity of the lemon to brighten the dish, expecting the next bite to contain this ingredient, but the lemon was MIA, and it was needed to balance and brighten an, otherwise, uninspired dish.

The “Guapo Chop” salad was served with little gems romaine lettuce, topped with scoops of Queso Fresco cheese, guacamole, pickled Jalapeño peppers, pickled red onions, spicy pico de gallo, tortilla chips, and avocado basil dressing. There was a significant miscue on the first attempt and required a replacement. I really enjoyed the pickled onions and Jalapeño peppers but the thin guacamole and pico de gallo were again present and, not surprisingly, the onions overwhelmed the lettuce, which should have been the main focus of the dish. I thought the buttermilk dressing would balance the dish, but there was none present and I was a little reluctant to ask for a third attempt.

The evening took a significantly positive turn when burgers were ordered and delivered. Bareburger offers fourteen pre-determined combinations, plus the option to build your own, and my host was persistent that I sample a diverse array of meats since the menu contains beef, bison, wild boar, duck, elk, turkey, as well as vegetarian options.

The first was the “SoCal,” (seen above) which included a turkey patty, aged Cheddar cheese, pickled red onions, alfalfa sprouts, guacamole, on a griddled sprout bun. I was pleasantly surprised with the flavor and moistness of the turkey patty as well as how the various toppings complemented each other. The guacamole made its third appearance of the evening and this time it was a welcome addition. Since it is more a spread than a true guacamole it worked well to bring a creamy pungency and its heavy onion accents, and the pickled onions added crunch and sour notes. The bun was a good choice and the SoCal was my favorite burger of the evening.

The “Blue Elk” was the polar opposite side of the flavor spectrum, and if you are looking for bold flavors, this is a great choice. The elk was less gamey than I assumed, more a clean, rich flavor similar to a grass-fed beef patty, with a richness you would expect. The key to this combination was the inclusion of two strong, sweet components, the stout onions and the tomato fig jam, each was a fantastic complement to the elk. The country bacon added just a touch of saltiness, and the Amish Blue cheese kicked in a completely different profile, some would love the addition, while others would feel it fought with the other ingredients.

Since Bareburger does not offer a bacon-cheeseburger as one of its pre-determined combinations, I decided to “Be My Burger.” I started with an 8-ounce beef patty, and added country bacon, Colby cheese and Stout Onions. The meat presented a medium richness, and the sweet onions added a wonderful complex profile from the stout. I was not as fond of my cheese choice, the scant amount of crumbled Colby did not work well in the balance of flavors, and the Colby would have benefitted from a better melt. Likewise, the onions were diced and I would have preferred that they were served in larger pieces. The country bacon was soggy and offered little to the dish, I wish strip bacon was an option.

To accompany the burgers, I ordered a side of “Fries and Rings.” The fries were excellent, perfectly prepared with moist interiors surrounded by a thin crisp crust. The rings were coated in a very think, wheat flour based coating. The amount of coating and the boldness of the wheat overwhelmed the moist onions, like biting into fried wheat bread. Stick with the fries.

For dessert I ordered the “Flourless Chocolate Cake.” It was a cross between a chocolate lava cake and pudding. It was accompanied by a few marinated cherries. It was a very sweet way to end the meal.

Bareburger’s business model is to offer organic, healthier products, with unique and creative combinations. This is a not an inexpensive burger joint, more in line with restaurant prices than Shake Shack and Five Guys. A bacon-cheeseburger, fries and a soda will total more than $20 before tax and tip, probably $100 for a family of four. Look carefully at the pre-determined options as each could save $2-3 compared to a build your own. Overall, the burgers were very good, but numerous miscues on both visits need to be addressed, especially with these prices.

Really Liked

  • SoCal ($10.85)
  • Blue Elk ($12.95)
  • French Fries (3.50)

Liked

  • Bacon Cheeseburger ($12.95)
  • Flourless Chocolate Cake ($7.50)

Needs Improvement

  • Macho Fries ($11.95)
  • Guapo Chop ($10.95 / $16.95)
  • Crispy Brussels Sprouts ($6.85)
  • Onion Rings ($4.50)

21 Harbor Point Road – Stamford, CT 06902

203-890-9686

This was a private event. The author were compensated for this review; the meal was provided without charge. The opinions contained herein are solely those of the author.

Tavern 489 (Stamford) Serving Some Solid Dishes

ctb_489_octopusThe newest addition to the Springdale-Glenbrook neighborhood is Tavern 489, located at 489 Glenbrook Avenue. A stone’s throw from the Glenbrook train stop, the restaurant sits in the space that originally housed the Moosehead Bar decades ago (thank you “Hey Stamford”) and shares the building with the newly relocated and reopened Tawa (reviewed here). The restaurant is the brainchild of owners Eric Monte and Partner/ Executive Chef Regis Saget. Stamford residents also know Monte as the the owner of The Fez downtown, which brought Moroccan cuisine to center stage.

Chef Regis is no stranger to various international cuisines and the Fairfield County culinary world. He spent his childhood in southwest France before receiving joint degrees from culinary school in Morlaas, France as a chef and pastry chef. Before settling in Greenwich in 2000 he worked in various regions including Spain, England, Andorra, Switzerland, South Africa and the East. He settled in Fairfield Count and worked at La Colline Verte and St. Tropez in Fairfield and opened Savvy Restaurant in New Canaan, which earned the highest “Excellent” rating from the New York Times in July 2006.

The fully redesigned interior of Tavern 489  is reminiscent of an Adirondack mountain lodge complete with exposed M-Trusses, a canoe dangling from the ceiling, a full front-to-back 18-seat wooden bar along the right wall, additional wooden high-top tables and chairs plus a large wooden “picnic” table for larger groups, all drawing focus to the imposing floor-to-ceiling stone fireplace in the rear. The walls are adorned with photos of Ernest Hemingway. When I asked Monte about these photos, he told me that Hemingway, in addition to being a great writer, was the ultimate outdoorsman, a true man’s man, and his photos fit the rustic, outdoorsy feel he was striving to achieve. In addition to the rustic décor, Tavern 489 offers live music six days a week.

The current menu is very eclectic, reflecting the various regions from Chef Regis’s background. CTbites was recently invited to a dinner at Tavern 489 where Chef Regis prepared items that both appear on the current menu as well as several specials that oftentimes appear on the menu. They each showed a focus on bold flavors that emphasized the inherent flavor of each ingredient, while balancing and complementing the combinations. (Since this was a sponsored event the photos may not reflect the regular portion size.)

We enjoyed three appetizers.

ctb_489_tomato_soupThe first was a Cold Tomato soup. The chunky texture was “gazpacho style” and accentuated the sweetness of tomatoes, offset with just a touch of pungency from some onions and a touch of vinegar. This rendition was delightfully refreshing.

ctb_489_venison_meatballsI also enjoyed the Venison Meatballs. They were served in a “bone-canoe” and were firm in texture while maintaining a moist interior. The venison absorbed a good amount of smokiness and were complemented by a thin glaze of a red wine green peppercorn sauce. The meatballs were served with simple fingerling potatoes that complemented the venison with a little earthiness.

ctb_489_fried_oysters_singleThe third appetizer was the Taunton bay fried oysters. They were coated in a thick seasoned corn meal and deep fried to a golden brown. They were paired with a lemon tamarind tomato curry sauce to bring a little sweetness to the dish. The crust was a little tick, detracting a bit from the sweet oysters.

ctb_489_bison_burgerThe next course was a trio of hamburgers, two beef and the third was bison. The bison was served with lettuce, tomato, shallots, melted Burrata. The bison was rich and expertly prepared to medium-rare. The shallots were a good addition but I was not as fond of the inclusion of the Burrata.

The seasoned hunter angus beef burger was served with lettuce, tomato, and a truffle pesto The medium-rare patty was medium in flavor and I really liked how the earthiness of the truffle pesto complemented the meat.

ctb_489_blackened_angus_burgerThe last burger was the Blackened angus burger, served with lettuce, tomato, and topped with melted Bleu cheese. Similar to the pesto, the Bleu cheese elevated the mildness of the meat.  All of the burgers were served with home-made fries that were very good.

ctb_489_octopusThe burgers were followed by my favorite dish of the evening, the Charred octopus, served in a mélange of kidney beans, tomatoes, shallots, garlic, parsley and pomegranate chimichurri dressing. The slow cooked octopus sections were soft and moist, some of the most tender octopus I have ever eaten. It was combined with the other ingredients to create a vibrant array of bold flavors. The roasted tomatoes exploded with sweetness and the al dente prepared kidney beans offered a wonderful textural contrast. The entire profile was elevated by the pomegranate chimichurri sauce. This was my favorite dish of the evening.

ctb_489_tomohawk_steakThe table next shared the Tomahawk Steak, which the menu describes as 36 ounces. The wood platter was covered with the pre-sliced steak was accompanied with bowls of red potatoes, mixed greens, and broccoli rabe, a few grilled shallots, prosciutto wrapped asparagus and three sauces, a porcini, a green pepper and a poutine. The meat was served rare and was simply and properly seasoned. It was very tender and slightly juicy, but did have a fair amount of fat. The sauces were excellent and increased the profile of the steak. My favorite of the sauces was the poutine which added a wonderful level of earthiness to the steak.  The potatoes and broccoli rabe were simply prepared and delicious, but the asparagus were a little salty from the prosciutto.

ctb_489_chocolate_mousse

To finish the meal, we enjoyed a platter of chocolate mousse. This was ultra-creamy, light in texture and delivered a medium level of chocolate goodness.

Overall, Tavern 489 is a solid neighborhood spot that is also a good choice as a go-to restaurant for people looking for a menu with eclectic choice that deliver bold flavors in a relaxed environment. With a varied selection of beer and wines, there are also numerous beverage options to satisfy everyone.

Really Liked

  • Charred Octopus $14
  • Hunter Angus Burger $13
  • Blackened Angus Burger $12
  • Chocolate Mousse

Liked

  • Venison Balls
  • Cold Tomato Soup
  • Taunton Fried Oysters $12
  • Bison Burger $13
  • Dirty Tomahawk Steak $MP